5 highlights from M&S’s first Covid-era fashion collection, from wear-anywhere boots to sequined skirts

New-in pieces for the WFH world...

M&S womenswear autumn-winter 2020
M&S womenswear autumn-winter 2020 Credit:  

The last time Marks and Spencer debuted a new fashion collection was in March, when the UK was just over a week into lockdown in response to the still-fresh threat of Covid-19. Revisiting coverage of that collection now from a six-month remove, it seems painfully quaint. I can remember a time when all of us would have been excited by the prospect of a lemon-yellow trouser suit or a butterscotch leather trench coat, but - as it happened - that time was not summer 2020.

The retailer’s autumn-winter 2020 collection looks a little different. It’s a quieter launch, for one thing; it’s also more in sync with our altered habits and routines. Due to lead times, most of the collection was designed pre-lockdown, but the fashion and buying teams were able to respond to changes with subtle tweaks to the product assortment and styling. 

“For the Autumn season, our main focus as a buying team has been to ensure we land everyday style, with an emphasis on high-low dressing – delivering standalone items that work together to make great stylish outfits,” Maddy Evans, head of buying, said in a statement. The fashion team has been able “to accelerate necessary changes, backing key categories and trends” that M&S expects to continue into autumn and winter.

New looks from the M&S autumn-winter 2020 collection  Credit:  

That translates to an emphasis on activewear, casual tops and knitwear. And fewer options - a 20 percent reduction in styles compared to past collections. Not that you’re likely to miss anything. This collection is comprehensive enough to make past ranges seem overpopulated. All the layering pieces, leggings and easy midi-dresses you might look for from M&S are still there. 

The retailer hasn't had an easy run of 2020. Lockdown, with its store closures, was disastrous for all non-food departments. Even two months after shops reopened, fashion and home sales remained 48 percent lower than they were last August, a downturn not mitigated by online sales that were 39.2 percent higher. M&S responded by letting nearly 8,000 workers go and launching the ominously named Never the Same Again transformation drive, which calls for it to become a leaner, more agile company. 

Another massive change of late has been M&S’s new joint venture with Ocado, which launched at the beginning of September. Along with an initial range of 4,400 M&S food products, Ocado offers around 700 M&S home and lifestyle products for delivery. So far the offering is heavy on hosiery and knicker multi-packs, but if they added that yellow cardigan? We’d definitely one-click on that.

Read on for more on the key pieces to add to your shopping cart. 

The preppy staple

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Wool tailored dogtooth blazer, £79

Everyone raves about M&S coats, but I think its blazers are often its unsung star pieces. This single-button blazer comes in a neutral dogtooth plaid that will work over everything from logo T-shirts to silk pussy-bow blouses (if you’re so inclined); the four buttons climbing each sleeve add interest to the wrist. The better to highlight your Zoom gesturing, of course.

The lemonade cardigan

M&S Collection Cardigan, £35 Credit:  

By now you’ve no doubt discovered that the easiest way to autumn-proof (if not winterise) your favourite summer dresses is to throw a chunky cardigan on top. This softer take on the stardigan comes in a cheery hue. You know what they say we should do with lemons…

The utility boots

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Leather hiker ankle boots, £59

If you resisted the lure of stompy boots last year, then this is the season to commit. But no one is saying you have to commit in a three-figure-pricetag way. The new M&S shoe range contains a good number of utility-style boots at a friendly price point.

The boiler suit 

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M&S Collection Tencel jumpsuit, £59

Maybe it’s the all-in-one ease, or maybe there’s something about the idea of rolling up our sleeves that resonates. Either way, the boiler suit has emerged as a key piece for the season. This dark denim boiler suit is a sleek, grown-up take on the utility style. If you don’t want one yet, just wait until you see Katherine Ryan’s millennial-pink version in The Duchess…

The spangled skirt

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Sequin pleated midi skirt, £59

Is it just me, or is every dinner out a dinner out out these days? If you feel the same way, then eventually you’re going to slip into some sequins. This sparkly copper skirt will work with a velvet blazer and heels, or with a grey cashmere jumper - another M&S specialty.

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